By Megan Smart | Comedy
A young man tries to stop a barking dog, then starts a war with his neighbor.

Jonathan is a sweet but anxious aspiring writer and poet who dreams of taking the mic in front of audiences at his local spoken word night but is stymied by stage fright. To make matters worse, his writing time is interrupted by the incessant barking of his neighbor's dog. Jonathan tries to handle the situation with diplomacy, but his abrasive neighbor Don intimidates him, and Jonathan can't quite bring himself to ask for what he wants.

When Jonathan takes matters into his own hands, he makes one mistake after another, culminating in a confrontation with Don. But Jonathan must leverage his gifts for clever communication to get out of the situation, which could lead to a creative and personal breakthrough -- if he survives.

Directed by Megan Smart from a script written by George Pullar, who also stars in the lead role of Jonathan, this short dark comedy is the collision of a mild-mannered, self-aware young poet with a macho neighbor out of touch with his emotions. Captured with a warm visual naturalism, it finds humor in both the clash of temperaments and how far someone will go to avoid their fears, as the excellent script nimbly constructs a comedy of errors sparked both by Jonathan's desperate desire to shut his neighbor's dog up and his inability to be assertive.

Of course, his efforts to quiet the dog go wrong. But as we're swept along to find out what happens next, we're also solidly rooted in the characters, whether it's in the alignment of their choices with who they are or the earthy and witty dialogue, particularly from blustery blowhard Don, played by actor Ben Oxenbould with gruff gusto. Watching him go head-to-head with Pullar as Jonathan, it's enjoyable to watch such different characters interact, and when Don finds solace in Jonathan's poetry after a tragic event, it also gives the young writer a boost in confidence.

This being a dark comedy, it all culminates in a confrontation that is laden with suspense, pathos and hilarity, all at once. But the time and care that the storytelling and performances put in making Don and Jonathan solid characters pay off, as the pair go beyond their adversarial roles and reveal themselves as dimensional human beings. Underneath Don's aggression are genuine pain and vulnerability, something that Jonathan is uniquely suited to hold space for and help Don articulate, even in the stickiest of situations. The result is a surprisingly emotional ending to "Stonefish," which has a genuinely humane core in acknowledging the variegated tapestry that makes up humankind, and the many dimensions that make up a person. Jonathan truly sees the power of honest, authentic expression, which give him the confidence to finally believe in and share his voice -- though not without having to go through some pain to get there.

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